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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

STANLEY, JOHN MIX (1814–1872).

Born on January 17, 1814, at Canandaigua, New York, artist John Mix Stanley grew up in Naples and Buffalo, New York, and at fourteen was apprenticed to a carriage maker to paint signs and decorate sideboards. He was twenty when he moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he met itinerant artist James Bowman, who gave him lessons in portrait painting. Bowman and Stanley subsequently worked together in Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Troy, New York. In 1839 Stanley traveled to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, where he painted his first American Indian subjects.

In 1842 Stanley and Sumner Dickerman, a friend from Troy, visited Indian Territory. Arriving in the Three Forks area of present northeastern Oklahoma, Stanley set up a portrait studio at Fort Gibson. The following spring he moved to Tahlequah, and in June 1843 he attended a grand council of tribes called by Cherokee Chief John Ross. That same year Stanley accompanied Cherokee agent Pierce M. Butler to a council of the Comanche, Seneca, and Delaware with representatives of the Republic of Texas near present Lawton, Oklahoma. Stanley may have made a second trip to the Texas border, as evidenced by several Comanche portraits dated 1844 and later exhibited in Washington, D.C. He also painted portraits of Ross family members at Bayou Menard and visited Creek settlements located on the North Canadian River.

Stanley left Indian Territory in 1845 to organize exhibitions of his work in several cities. In the West again in 1846, he joined a military expedition in Santa Fe under the command of Gen. Stephen W. Kearney and traveled from New Mexico to California as a draftsman with First Lt. William H. Emory's topographical corps. In San Diego Stanley prepared approximately forty botanical and landscape plates for Emory's report of the Kearney campaign. From California Stanley wandered northward into Oregon. In the spring of 1848 he sailed for the Hawaiian Islands. In 1850 he returned to New York and in 1852 exhibited a large collection of his Western paintings at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

In 1853 Stanley secured an appointment as expeditionary artist with Washington territorial governor Isaac Stevens's survey of a northern transcontinental railroad route to the Pacific Coast. Stanley returned from the Far West in 1854 to prepare the lithographic views that illustrated Stevens's reports. He married that same year and remained in Washington until moving back to Buffalo in 1863. In 1864 he settled permanently in Detroit. On January 24, 1865, fire consumed all but five of the Stanley paintings then housed at the Smithsonian Institution. A fire at Barnum's American Museum in New York City that same year, and another at Stanley's studio in Detroit in 1872, destroyed the greater part of his original Western collection. Stanley died at Detroit on April 10, 1872.

Among the paintings that escaped the Smithsonian fire was "Indian Council Convened by John Ross at Tah-le-quah," now included in the National Collection in Washington. Other works by Stanley are found principally at the Buffalo Historical Society, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas.

David C. Hunt


David I. Bushnell, Jr., "John Mix Stanley, Artist-Explorer," Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, June 30, 1924 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1925).

Robert Taft, Artists and Illustrators of the Old West, 1850–1900 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
David C. Hunt, “Stanley, John Mix,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=ST014.

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